Friday, April 29, 2011

Saison's greetings

Saisons figure big in the South and Central Jersey beer picture this weekend, with River Horse Brewing pouring one at ShadFest 2011, and Iron Hill Maple Shade releasing its saison to mark a brewing collaboration and fete women beer enthusiasts.

River Horse will pour its Brewer's Reserve No. 7 saison (7% ABV) at the annual, two-day townwide event in Lambertville along with seven of its other brews, the most RH has ever put on tap for the festival. (Here's the lineup: Lager, Hop Hazard, Tripel Horse, Special, Double IPA, Double Wit, Summer Blonde and the saison. As in the past, the back lot of the brewery is blocked off for festival crowds and bands. Beers are sold and poured via a ticket system, and commemorative glasses are available for sale.)

RH's head brewer, Chris Rakow, says the Belgian farmhouse ale is a choice style of the brewery, yet one that had not made it into the production pipeline.

"It's one we always wanted to do, kind of a favorite style of the brewery, and we finally got a chance to do it," Chris says. "It has nice citrus notes, earthy notes, a little bit of tartness to it. But we wanted to accentuate the citrus notes in it, so we used lemongrass. To accentuate some of the earthy notes to it, we did white peppercorns. The white peppercorns give a little bit of funk to it, not much."

The saison gave RH a chance to bring its Brewer's Reserve series back around and settle an issue with the brewery's 12-bottle variety pack. Past Brewer's Reserve beers have ended up becoming either year-round brews (like Hop-A-Lot-Amus Double IPA) or seasonals (Oatmeal Milk Stout, Belgian Double Wit).

"In our variety pack, we always kinda struggle on a fourth beer to put in there. Usually it was Tripel. But Tripel's so popular, it's hard to steal that away from (distribution) orders," Chris says. "Then we were putting Double IPA in there, and then same thing, that was taking off. So we were like, 'Hey we could do a Brewer's reserve, get it out there again, and then we'll have a fourth beer to put in the variety pack along with Special, Hazard and Lager, and then have it draft, too.' "

Four bands are on the ShadFest music bill for the brewery back lot. Look for Chris' band, Ludlow Station, to hit the stage on Saturday. (Chris plays guitar in the group; more on that in a future post.)

Meanwhile, down in Maple Shade, Iron Hill brewer Chris LaPierre's fifth turn at a saison is probably his most endearing. Maybe that's because he made the peppercorn-spiced brew, dubbed Saizanne, with his girlfriend, Suzanne Woods (pictured at left), a Sly Fox Brewing representative.

The beer is an informal collaboration aimed squarely at the pleasure of beer, not trying to break new ground. Besides, saisons are a fav of Suzanne's. (Note: The ale isn't an actual Sly Fox-Iron Hill brewery collaboration. However, a round of Sly Fox's saison yeast was used to make it. "Which is pretty much what we always use for this beer," Chris says.) The brewpub will tap the beer (7% ABV, with a golden hue) at noon on Saturday.

Collaboration beers have been a craft beer industry trend lately. Despite that, Chris thinks they're less about fusion than beer enthusiasts may be led to believe.

"They're more about having fun than exploring," he says. "A lot of the collaboration beers I've seen out there, I kinda have to wonder did they really do anything that they wouldn't have on their own?

"With Suzanne and me, it's a little bit different because she's not a professional brewer. So it's more about her influence in brewing something that she likes, that she really enjoys. She loves saisons, and peppercorns are her favorite spice, so it was kinda more about that."

As part of the beer's release, members of In Pursuit of Ales (yes, its acronym is IPA), the Philadelphia-area women's beer club that Suzanne founded about four or five years ago, will gather at the brewpub. As will Beer for Babes, a South Jersey women's beer club founded by beer and food writer Tara Nurin, with the help of Kate Burns of Haddon Township.

Women's beer groups, Tara says, are a way to nudge perceptions of beer away from old conventions. That is, beer is not exclusively your dad's or granddad's drink. It's for everyone, and the visibility of women who enjoy craft beers for the flavor of the beverage, for their power to pair with food and for the camaraderie is growing.

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